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Catholic Church must commit to meaningful action on reconciliation

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Our Lady of Victory, better known as the Igloo Church in Inuvik, Inuvialuit Settlement Region.   Wikimedia Commons/Adam Jones

Spirituality is a large part of what makes up the Catholic Church, but it’s not the only part. The Church is also an administrative system, with its own government, systems and political leadership. It was this system that worked with governments in Canada to establish residential schools in Indigenous communities, including Chesterfield Inlet in what is now Nunavut. 

The headquarters of the Church is a city-state known as the Vatican, housed within the capital of Italy. Its current leader is Pope Francis, who serves as both the head of state and of the church. In 2019, the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the church’s governing body in Canada, invited the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations, the Metis National Council, as well as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican to advance healing and understanding. 

We accepted this offer and have been working with the CCCB to assemble delegations and prepare the logistics for a visit of truth and reconciliation. We were prepared to make the trip in December 2021 but were forced by the changing nature of the pandemic to reschedule. We now expect to meet with the Holy Father in March 2022. 

The ITK Board of Directors has asked me to lead the delegation, which will include individuals from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunavik. It will be the first meeting between a sitting Pope and Inuit, and the first opportunity for us to share the pain our communities have experienced under the leadership of the Church. 

The hour-long closed encounter in the Pope’s office at the Vatican will be followed by a larger encounter with all Indigenous delegates on the final day of our visit. It will be a difficult and emotional time. But it is not enough for Pope Francis to listen to our words. Inuit need him to direct the administrative arms of his church to take action in critical areas where the church has yet to follow through on its commitments. 

One of the key messages I will bring forward is that the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada must be implemented in full, including Call to Action 58 – an apology by the Pope to survivors and their families for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We hope that this apology would take place in Canada. 

I will call on the Church to fulfill its legal obligations under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including to provide monetary restitution for actions of the church that have directly contributed to some of the long-standing inequity we experience today. 

I will also urge the Church to work with the Government of Canada and Indigenous organizations to reunite children buried in unmarked graves with their communities. This includes fulfilling the Church’s legal obligations to produce all school records under the terms of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The spirit of reconciliation also demands that the Church agree to participate in a third-party investigation of its archives to uncover necessary records. 

And finally, we will call on the Church for support in holding to account individuals who committed crimes in the name of the Church. We continue to seek justice for the horrific legacy of abuse of Inuit children at the hands of Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest at the Sir Joseph Bernier School (Turquetil Hall) in Chesterfield Inlet. The Church must commit to work with governments and with Inuit to bring about justice for survivors of abuse and their families. 

I hope that Pope Francis will truly hear these messages, and work with us to help our people heal. Inuit know what it means to persevere through hardship. Many among us carry a heavy load. But there is hope. Inuit deserve to be heard and we will carry a message of unity and strength with us to the Vatican. 

Natan Obed 
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 

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